Researching News and Narratives for Public Companies

Article excerpt

Fueled by low interest rates, a 19-year bull market, and the acceptance of the Internet as a legitimate research tool for individuals and companies alike, business portal developers have recognized that there is a growing consumer demand for public company information.

I think of Hoover's as a pioneer in aggregating information on publicly traded companies--both in print and on the Net. Hoover's provides researchers with financials, news, market data, and background information on companies, as well as links to a gamut of other company-related data.

But lots of other good business portals exist. In the race to create brand awareness, increase site traffic and stickiness--and generate revenue--business portals provide "one-stop-shopping" sources of company data. Portals provide not only their own original content, but also content licensed from a variety of other sources, and links to related sites. Sound familiar?

But have you noticed how each portal provides the same information, but in a different format? Or is it actually the same information? Does it make a difference that the balance sheet and income statement data on Wall Street Research Net is provided by Media General, and the same information is provided by Market Guide on TheStreet.com? Is the news on Hoover's the same news found on the Wright Investor Service site or at Business.com? For comprehensive research, should information professionals advocate checking the news and narratives on all portals? Or does the amount of duplicative information retrieved make it a pointless and time-consuming exercise? Removing the duplicates is a manual effort when dealing with Web sources, since there's no dedup facility as there is with traditional aggregators, such as Dialog.

JUST A CLOSER LOOK

Can you rely on just one portal for comprehensive company descriptions and news? A close examination of six public company information aggregators reveals how much unique information they provide. Of course, a site's usefulness as a research tool depends on the type of information you are looking for, and each business portal definitely has its own target market, focus, and personality.

Although several excellent business portals exist, I chose to focus on the following six because of their depth of content and popularity:

* Hoover's, "a portal that provides more than three million businesspeople with timely and reliable information and research tools" (http.//www.hoovers.com)

* Wright Investors' Service (WISI), "detailed analysis of over 20,000 companies" (http://profiles.wisi.com)

* Market Guide (http://www.marketguide.com)

* TheStreet.com, "helping readers make informed investment decisions" (http://www.thestreet.com)

* Wall Street Research Net (WSRN) "specializes in providing electronic distribution of information of use to investors" (http://www.wsrn.com)

* Business.com, "pure business information" (http://www.business.com)

Despite their rave reviews, I excluded Yahoo Finance and MSN MoneyCentral because they emphasize personal finance. More interesting are sites that provide the type of content typically of interest to information professionals--detailed company data. While the majority of the six sites I selected focus on public company information for the purpose of investing, their value for competitive intelligence research cannot be understated.

BUSINESS DESCRIPTION AND COMPANY BACKGROUND

Using American Express as a case study, I limited this investigation to company description, background, and news. A similar study for financial information will follow in a later issue of ONLINE.

Background information on a company refers to a narrative business description written by a site's editorial staff or analyst. I must admit that when looking for such a narrative I immediately head to Hoover's. I love Hoover's "Company Capsules," not only for their good summaries but also the witty style in which they are written. …